- The Washington Times - Monday, March 22, 2010

Democrats rose throughout the predictably partisan day to declare “historic” Sunday’s vote on the $1 trillion health care overhaul — with many citing the creation of Social Security and Medicare.

But the vote would be nothing like the bipartisan accomplishments of yore, despite Democrats’ repeated references to their coveted entitlement masterpieces that, by the way, are headed for insolvency.

In fact, the 219-212 vote was bipartisan — in opposition, with 34 Democrats joining every single Republican in voting against the bill.

Leaving bipartisanship to the wayside, Democrats relied on their 253-178 majority to pass the bill that Republicans denounce as allowing the federal government to take over one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Not exactly the way it was in the days of yore. When Social Security passed in 1935, the vote was 372-33, with 77 Republicans crossing party lines to vote yes. In 1965, when Medicare passed, the vote was 313-115, with 65 Republicans joining Democrats.

Ignoring those facts, Democrats made clear, even before the House session kicked off at 1 p.m., that they considered Sunday’s vote identical to the Medicare vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders locked arms as they marched across the Capitol complex, with Mrs. Pelosi clutching the very gavel used to pass Medicare 45 years ago.

“Today, we’re doing something that ranks with what we did with Social Security or Medicare. This is a day of which we can all be proud if we vote for that legislation,” said Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, a member of Congress since 1955 who banged that very gavel to pass Medicare.

Republicans mocked the so-called historic nature of the day.

“Some say we’re making history; I say we’re breaking history,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. Added Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois: “Just because it’s historic doesn’t mean it’s good.”

Unlike the past historic votes, the party that passed the sweeping bill voted just hours later to completely overhaul the legislation.

During a daylong debate, Democrat after Democrat rose to stress the historic nature of the day.

“Health care isn’t only a civil right, it’s a moral issue,” said Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter of New York read a message that President Roosevelt sent to Congress in 1939, urging lawmakers to expand health care, just four years after the creation of the nation’s largest entitlement program.

The comparisons were, to say the least, ironic. Social Security, created 75 years ago during the Great Depression as a safety net for a small percentage of the indigent elderly, has expanded to encompass millions of Americans 65 and older. In 1940, benefits paid totaled $35 million. In 2009, more than 50 million Americans received $650 billion — that’s a “b” — in Social Security benefits.

Medicare was intended to bridge the gap of those younger than 65 without insurance. The costs of Medicare doubled every four years between 1966 and 1980, and tripled in some years after that. By 2008, the price tag to the federal government topped $380 billion annually.

Medicare is expected to become insolvent by 2017; Social Security, which will begin spending more money than it takes in this year, might make it until 2037 before the trust fund runs out.

“This bill will stand in the same company,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland proclaimed.

The House debate was so partisan that even the chaplain’s opening prayer was tinged with politics. The Rev. Daniel Coughlin praised the return of spring, saying “every day is fresh,” before adding, “the long waiting is over.”

Then, one after another, Democrats rose to extol the virtues of President Obama’s health care bill; Republicans to condemn it.

“Freedom dies a little bit today,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat.

The predictability of the day was broken only by the move of pro-life Democrats back to the party fold. At 4 p.m., Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan announced that after striking a deal with the president, he would toe the party line and vote yes.

Mr. Stupak brought along with him as many as 10 other Democrats, which pushed the party well over the top (even though some Democrats in more conservative districts would later be allowed to vote “no,” giving them a better chance of winning re-election).

As representatives debated into the night, Rep. Anna Eshoo, California Democrat, rose to sum up what was at stake.

“The human body holds the soul,” she said. But by then, most viewers — including Mr. Obama — had switched over to programming that offered an unexpected outcome — the NCAA basketball tournament.

Joe Curl can be reached at [email protected]

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